Almost the only thing known for sure about the rare and revered 1968 Topps 3-D baseball cards is that they are unbelievably expensive and many of us will likely never own one.
The hobby’s late 60s Sasquatch, legend has it that the cards were spotted for only a brief time at a few Brooklyn candy stores that summer. There are also accounts that indicate most of the cards on the secondary market arrived there thanks in large part to people associated either with Topps or Xograph, which produced the cards for Topps and would later produce similar sets distributed in boxes of Kellogg’s cereal throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.
There are just 12 cards in official checklists of the blank-backed, unnumbered set and only two players – Tony Perez and Roberto Clemente – are in the Hall of Fame. But when you start factoring in cards not on the base checklist, like proofs of John O’Donoghue, Tommy Davis and Rick Monday all available without player or team names as well as multiple background variations, proofs, photo crops and different stamps on the backs of cards throughout, a set of a dozen jumps to at least 54 different according to this 2007 Sports Collectors Digest article.
The number of Hall of Famers jumps to three if you count an ultra-rare Brooks Robinson proof. The card doesn’t have the third baseman’s name on it, but has “Orioles” in block letters at the top much like a 1967 Topps design. According to a Huggins & Scott auction listing from earlier this year, only three Robinson proof cards are known to exist. This example sold for a cool $20,000.
That’s the way it is with 1968 Topps 3-D and all of the variations and proofs associated with it. If you really want to add one to your collection, even a rank and file player from the base checklist, odds are you’ll be dropping at least $1,000 and likely more.
There are a handful available on eBay. The only current live auctions are all from the same seller. There are PSA 9s of Ron Fairly and Jim Maloney and a PSA 8 Willie Davis. All three carry an opening bid of $795.
Most of the cards currently up for auction have been listed two or three times because so few can afford to own one. Boog Powell, Rusty Staub, Curt Flood, Ron Swoboda and others are available. The only problem is those’ll cost you $9,875, $6,200 and $2,985, respectively.
That’s pretty typical for this set which is why high-end auction houses are their most common domain. Some very rare, very nice and super expensive lots have sold over the years, many through Robert Edward Auctions. The coolest lot has to be this one from 2009 for not only a PSA 8 Mel Stottlemyre, but also the wrapper and ultra-rare easel that was included in every pack so kids could display their 3-D card. Everything sold for a mere $23,500.
But there is one card that is rare and expensive even for this set. During a decade in which Rose, Seaver and Ryan all had rookie cards and every set had at least one Mantle, there is no question as to who graces the most expensive card of the 1960s. That honor goes to Roberto Clemente and his ‘68 3-D card (check the price on this VG example) and it really isn’t very close.
Examples of Clemente’s card, even in lousy condition, sell for thousands of dollars. An SGC 20 with a big old crack right on Roberto’s face went for almost $3,000 in this 2012 Goodwin & Co. auction. The sky’s the limit for high-end examples. This PSA 10 Clemente sold for $35,550 in a 2012 REA auction.
In that same year, this PSA 9 was part of a 1999 find of approximately 100 ’68 3-Ds which originated with someone involved in the production of the set. This example and others in the find were hand-stamped on the back with the following request:
“This is an experimental XOGRAPH card produced as a limited edition. Not for public circulation or distribution. Not for resale. To be returned to: Visual Panographics, Inc., 488 Madison Ave., New York, New York.”
The card wasn’t returned back in the day–and sold for $29,625 some 44 years later.
Nowadays collectors are used to fancy high-gloss cards, 1-of-1s and everything from jerseys to bats to George Washington’s hair embedded in them. But up until 1968, baseball cards had been a player’s picture on cardboard and with the exception of the occasional coin or other insert, that’s about it.
1968 Topps 3-D was innovative and something of a precursor to the high-end, short printed card of today but they vanished almost as quickly as they appeared, never to be offered as a widely available set.
Topps paid tribute to its long-lost friend with a 2012 Archives insert set that includes some past greats and the result was actually quite good. It’s as close as many will get to the original.